From time of birth, black and brown women are often raised to develop the fundamental skills needed to perform feminized labour and maintain the survival of our communities. We, just as often, become mothers before we learn to love ourselves and others in ways that are healthy, gratifying and supportive to ourselves. Balancing dreams, desires and responsibilities on little rest and support, is an unfair lesson stitched into our minds, recognized and remembered from quite some time ago. As a “natural” result of migration, and the systemic dismemberment of black and brown families, many traditions and practices specific to the different stages of young black and brown womanhood and motherhood, have frayed; become changed and lost.
I ponder sometimes, on the wisdom hidden within the silent and secretive nature of my grandmother, wishing I could sit with her thoughts and tap into her wealth of knowledge that is rightfully my own. Wondering what undying traditions died with her or remain silent in the heart of the elders in my family still living.
Growing up, I had a really unhealthy and hurtful relationship with my mom which, surprisingly enough, set the precursor for a long line of abusive relationships, both platonic and intimate, which lead up to the one that brought the birth of my daughter. I had, up to that point, been an artist slowly moving along my journey of self discovery/awareness and/or “consciousness” in my life and work, so the birth of my daughter, which immediately follow with a deep postpartum depression, made me begin to meditate on and strategize around, my mother wounds. My relationship with my mom was the center of my universe for my entire life, yet the full impact of her abuse never showed itself until I became a mother. Between my damaged relationship with my mother and her family, along with the undying friction between my co-parent and I, I was left with minimal support in my daughters infancy. Everyday was a war on slope. Everything was hard. I don’t remember having many friends back then and if I did, I didn’t have the strength or language to articulate my needs. Throughout my different stages of postpartum depression, I took careful note and made sense of my situation as it relates to my individual experience with systematic oppression. “My lack of access to resources and support is directly connected to the family and poverty, I was born into”; this was (and currently is) the bottom line and the main thought that kept circling through my mind, only tormenting me more as I lived it everyday. My daughter and I and our need for community, created obstacles in my self development that I continue to struggle to navigate.
Early in my pregnancy, while working with some women in my community, I had pitched the concept of an community art circle for mothers of colour and the thought was met with excitement. The slow development of the program plan would eventually allow young black and brown mothers to use the creative space and mediums to help them transitioning and adjusting to motherhood. For as long as women have had to balance their careers and parental duties, there has been a fundamental need for communal support for families; it takes a village to raise a child, they say, and it is not as though this concept is foreign to me. I grew up with a village, as dysfunctional as it may have been at times. Though many of those who made up my village as a child are either no longer in my life or no longer with us, their lives, love and protection is something I value and cherish yet fear I’m failing to create for my daughter in the faint rhythms of isolation that roll into my timeline and lifestyle. Some might say it’s selfish, but the driving force behind my goals derive from a very deeply personal space and strength, to bear light onto the trembling of my own individual needs as a mother still young, and learning. The maintenance of our mental health, the survival of our children and the hope for generational healing, depends on the purposeful and intentional restorative rebuilding of our community that I deserve to be a part of.
As I found myself grasping for straws in a community that I still continue to adjust myself around, I understood the importance of holistic community care for black mothers and families and birthed the idea of The MOCHA Project. The Mothers Organized in Community Healing Arts Project began in 2016 as a 9 week mommy and me art program for black and brown mothers, with optional child care, food and transportation. All workshops were co facilitated by other black and brown mothers and that shifted the space in a powerful and positive way every time. When the women felt in control of their space and experience, it developed its own energy that even in the smallest groups, was still flowing, moving and active. Providing this space in my community for the first session was a challenging, yet amazing and fulfilling experience. The connections I made with the participating mothers and mothers in my community who work diligently to make safer spaces like this exist, affirmed my journey into holistic community arts and healing. It is important for the folks in our communities be allowed to heal and be healed in the spaces where they are from; black mothers, queer folks, poor folks all need to have access to spaces and alternative education, where we can be equipped with the skills to heal ourselves and each other. As The MOCHA Project enters its second year, I reflect on being initiated into motherhood and black womanhood through my desire to heal and care for, myself and my community. We are so often caught in perpetual states of need and lack, because of shame we are taught to feel for being human. We are subject to constant states of crisis, trauma and government sanctioned disease and have no safes space to be the people we become as result of the system. As our communities affirm decades worth of work and research in black and intersectional feminism, more folks are creating and maintaining the spaces for themselves, by themselves as a means of resistance and generational healing.